Best Practices For Teaching English As A Foreign Language - Henry Harvin

Teaching English as a Foreign Language is quickly emerging as a popular career choice. And we are also part of this new breed of teachers utilizing our language skills.

But does teaching the English language just involve knowing about the language?

Let me tell you a story.

We have a new student starting in your class today. His family has just relocated to your city from abroad. He will join your class and you will be teaching the English language to him. You have an entire class full of students who are in the same or similar situation. You will be the one providing him exposure to all these learners. And most likely, they speak little or no English.

But how can you teach someone who doesn’t understand you or whom you barely understand?

How prepared are you to teach these students?

You did do a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and got training in some techniques to handle such a class. But there is no teacher training guaranteed to ensure success.

So what would you do?

All right, maybe we don’t have a magic wand, but we are committed to succeeding in teaching the English language to our students,

So, where do you start?

If your fantastic in-class games can’t get the job done, you might not have to rethink your strategy.
So you keep thinking about how to keep your students’ morale high and determined to overcome their linguistic hurdles?

We have to adopt a strategy to apply to use the right teaching techniques, as it is evident from the circumstances in your class group.

Although students will be determined and consistent with their efforts, a textbook study isn’t the only way to learn, and also it alone is certainly not what is needed to achieve their goals. As teachers, we need to concentrate on an overall approach so we can help students in a class but also equip giving them tools to continue learning the language when they leave the classroom.

Let us discuss some best practices that we can adapt to teaching the English language to provide our students with the best learning experience

Aim or Objective

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Remember, these words mean the same!

What is the reason for this lesson or session?
You must have an object that you want to achieve from this session. And you should make the students aware of what is the target achievement before you start teaching.

This gives them something to focus on and helps them concentrate on the class better.

You would have noticed that all good training courses will as standard practice usually outline the lesson’s aims at the beginning of the class. And in most cases, these would be outlined at the beginning of the class so the students can refer to them throughout the class. This serves the dual purpose of staying focussed and knowing what is expected of the class.


You can’t expect all students to be at the same level of English. They will also have different capabilities to follow the Teaching English language.

So your lessons need to be planned and executed as is appropriate for the level of the students in that class. You will need a dual approach here. The study materials should be flexible to cater for specific learning needs while your teaching style should be inclusive of all levels of students in the irrelevant of the fact that they are stronger in some a whether they are stronger in some areas or weaker in some.

Pace and Variety

The best-planned lessons are conducted at a pace suitable to the student’s group with a variety of tasks included in it.

This fact holds for any level of teaching.

Make sure you understand the pace of the class. Whatever the age and capability of the students, your teaching English language should match their absorption pace. Be prepared to change it for a different session, but don’t let it falter. Also, you will need to move around tasks and exercises. Your lesson plan should have flexibility. To add or remove things if you feel you need to.


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As you continue teaching English as a Foreign Language, the learners should pick up skills to progress in their journey and continue to improve their language skills. Each lesson should make the students feel that they are one step closer to their aim.

Take care to build in assessments in the learning plan to check the progress of your group.


Your students are learning a new language while you are teaching the English language. There will be errors that require to be corrected and relearned

However, remember you must ensure to avoid negative criticism that may embarrass students and they may choose to leave the class. You should propagate constructive feedback.

Correction by other students can be very helpful, and you should always encourage students to see their mistakes and correct them themselves. This is also a great way to learn from mistakes!

Make it a point to appreciate students when they are correct and keep them motivated.


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Be the inspiration of your students to learn, proper encouragement and appreciation will go a long way to keep the students interested. Gently but firmly push your students to perform to the best of their abilities.

Bring out the shy bunch, so they feel empowered and stir all students to take specific roles in different roles in group tasks, so everyone has an equal chance to contribute and develop.

Get to know the difficult studies and form a connection with them to draw them out and stimulate them tp progress. It may be the reason why they work better with one-on-one attention; they may lack social skills, or may even have medical issues.

Create an Engaging Learning Environment

Your classroom should be a comfortable and happy space. As a teacher, you will be responsible for the look and feel of the environment. This will include decisions involving the environment, the materials, and the social integration of your English language learners (ELLs) promoting language learning.

You will be responsible for planning the instruction and support of your students’ English language teaching. Learning a new Language often feels daunting and is a time-consuming process. Learners will get disheartened if they don’t get quick results or feel outside their comfort zone. However, continued motivation and correct levels of engagement while teaching the English language will drive the Learners to work hard persistently at learning the new language.

As a teacher, demonstrate that you have expectations of success for all your students. Student achievement is has a direct correlation with the teacher’s expectations of success. So, once you set the expectations and communicate them clearly to all their students, this will motivate them to perform at a high level.

Empower Students to Take Ownership

How does it feel to own your learning?

You have formed a deep relationship with the language, which has prompted you to Teach English as a foreign language. Pass on the deep love and connection while teaching the English language and help your students learn at an accelerated rate. Encourage them to find their path and work within the peer group. Let the class group realize that they can learn themselves and work with their peers. It will have a positive impact on both their effort and achievement with your support on owning their English language learning.

Different Student and Different Instruction

Each student is an individual and is different. So sometime individualized tutorials may be just what is called for. So, depending on the student, you may take up a smaller group for more effective instruction.
This format normally works well when conducting sessions online as students can take up a self-paced course and focus on specific areas of the curriculum where they need to pay more attention.

Know Your Learners

teaching English as a foreign language

Whom are you teaching?

Do you know them as individuals?

As a teacher, you will need to establish a relationship with each of your learners. So, you will learn the basic background information about your students, for example, students’ families, languages, cultures, and educational backgrounds. This will be effective in engaging them in class and prepare and deliver your lessons more effectively.

Teachers collect information about their students’ linguistic and educational backgrounds to determine the correct placement for students. You will be able to use this information as a resource for learning as well.

Each student will bring in something unique to the class, be it their heritage or their life experiences. Your prior knowledge will help you determine what gifts and talents students bring to the group, what interests motivate them, and the opportunity to tailor your instructions for the group and successfully teach the English Language.

Design High-Quality Lessons

The challenge for ELLs is to learn a new language while adjusting to a new environment.

What is your most challenging task?

Well, I would say Teaching English as a Foreign Language!

As a teacher, you will need to plan meaningful, in-depth lessons to promote language learning and help the students develop their language skills. These will help students develop their learning strategies and critical thinking skills. These lessons evolve from the learning objectives.

The content of the lessons will play an important part in the entire learning process.

So, there are techniques for making your lesson more appealing and easily understood to your group:

teaching English as a foreign language
  • Visual Aids: It is often easy to process information when there is a visual stimulus rather than an auditory stimulus. Your ELLs are not familiar with the language, so using visuals facilitates communication easier and lessons are easily understood.
  • Group Work: While teaching the English language, you need the class to be engaged, with teacher-led class instruction while the class is divided into small groups yielding results. Students can practice the language with peers in a more intimate, personal, and lower risk instilling more confidence in the student.
  • Work with the “Silent Period”: Learning a new language will be a challenging task. Adjusting to a new place and a new culture adds more burden. There may be a period where the ELL may not want or feel comfortable sharing or speaking. Allow them this period while you continue teaching the English language. Just be aware of making them feel part of the class, so they will willingly open up and integrate within the class.
  • Sentence Frames: Sentence Frames are a great way to practice language skills, especially conversations. The idea is to work with partially finishes sentences, for example, ” I am not happy ………….. said because………”. This demonstrates to the student how to structure a sentence. An effective exercise that can be adapted for practicing speech, spelling grammar, etc.
  • Learn about their heritage: As the students learn a new language, a good way to integrate the class is to learn their heritage. This is a good tool for you to understand the diversity of your class. And also it helps you to know about the various cultures. This is particularly useful to decipher unique cultural traits and language nuances, which may also affect learning a new language.
  • Pre-Teaching: When you are going to teach any specific piece, especially reading, give the material to your students early. If you plan on showing them a video, send the link a day before. This will allow them to review the material before reading/watching in class. They would be more likely to understand it better, having had the chance to review it beforehand. Then, it will be a better-informed lesson in the actual class.

Adapt Lesson Delivery as Needed

When teaching English as a Foreign Language, as a teacher, you will continually assess as the ELLs —observing and reflecting on responses to make sure learning objectives are fulfilled. For teaching the English language to be effective, evaluation has to be carried out in real-time. If we wait till the end of the lesson, there is a chance we may end up overlooking any misses, like students misunderstanding a key concept or incorrectly learning a critical vocabulary.

This also assists in ascertaining how students are coping with the lessons. If they struggle or if you feel they are not challenged enough, then you can adapt their lessons to fit with their capability.

Engage And Collaborate Within a Community

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As a teacher teaching English as a foreign language, you always want to provide the best for your students. Often, you are also abroad teaching the English language in an unknown country.

Who do you refer to when in need of assistance?

How do you keep improving?

One of the best answers to both these questions is when teachers collaborate with others within the industry to provide the best support for their learners. This also helps in their continued professional growth.

You can either meet up with local colleagues or get in touch with them via other means for lesson planning and delivery, share best practices and discuss instructional techniques for students of various proficiencies and seek solutions for any problems. These opportunities will put you in touch with teachers as well as content developers. And then you can compare notes about students’ language proficiency with content developers.

The Right Mind-Set: Classroom and Outside Practice

You have to provide a complete learning experience to your students, which would take into consideration classroom as well as outside learning fitting into every corner of your students’ lives. These students are learning a second language to fit into their new environment. So, they should be able to practice what they learn outside the classroom as well. This changes your role from just teaching English as a Foreign Language to an English speaking advisor.

Sure, your primary focus is in-class activities, but ideas that benefit students outside the classroom should also get equal attention.

Some things may seem straightforward, but remember, it may not be so to your class group. You have to teach these like life skills and remember not to make assumptions about your students’ basic knowledge of language capability.

Always remember, they are not professionals. YOU are!

Using Technology to Motivate and Interest Student

Motivation is a massive part of learning and adapting to something new.

Some of your students will come to class intrinsically motivated. Others will rely upon you to build the interest and provide motivation.

So how do you achieve that?

For adults securing a job and new career may be a persuasive factor. But then you have the younger generation, they, for instance, may enjoy the prospect of socializing with English speaking peers.

We have the technology today to meet everyone’s needs. While the young adults would be excited about changing their Facebook, Instagram, snap chat profiles to English, similarly, adults would have platforms like LinkedIn. There are varied sources of viewing options available to sample from as well. No matter the age group, technology will provide an option to go along with lessons.

Explicit Instructions And Ideas You Can Use at Home

We often assume that as we are teaching English Language and discussing learning strategies, students are on the same page. And we end up providing general guidelines. However, you must always remember, these ELLs may not fully comprehend these instructions or may be unable to read between the lines as we do. This is attributable to the fact that English is still new to them.

They do not have the training as you do for teaching the English language. They neither studied the nuances of the language nor are trained in the pedagogy. Thus, the best practice is to provide explicit instructions on how you want them to study and master the language.

For example, it is not enough to tell them to think in English. You also have to provide simple, clear specific ways for them to implement the idea. And show it to them with examples. Refer them to websites, podcasts, News channels to read and listen to various things. This way, they will make an effort to learn and create their own opinions in English.

Set up English Speaking Peer Groups

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I learned through time that the best way to learn, practice it yourself, and learn from your mistakes. The best way to practice is by having a group of friends in similar situations to share with. Setting up peer groups fulfills all these objectives and is also a fun way to facilitate speaking. Your students can talk and discuss real-life situations.

You can also create group projects, so the groups spend maximum time with each other. But you have to be careful that the project has a purpose and each student derives maximum benefit. There should be an outcome of the project, and it should display what the students have learned. Your role in these would be to supervise, advise, and assist if required.

Build and Maintain a Classroom Library

Reading is an essential element in teaching English as a foreign language. Reading helps improve vocabulary, fluency, and teaches about grammar as well as the structure of the language. There is a lot of benefits you can derive from this one single exercise.

Unfortunately, not all students will have access to a library. So, a good idea would be to create one in class. This will allow you to assign books suitable for the students’ level and interests. This will also allow you to utilize any extra time left over after a lesson in a fruitful manner.

You can either create a physical library with hardcover books or various virtual libraries like open Library and Lit2GO to consider.

Students Speak

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Teaching the English language, you are aware that student talking time has to be maximized during the class. This will ensure that your student can develop English language skills. The more time they have to speak in class, the more comfortable they become with the language, and as a result, they are likely to use more English outside. Thus, achieving the primary objective of Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

By maximizing student talking time, you are showing your students that they can take an active role in class and are learning to hold their end in an English language conversation. Once the idea instills in their minds, they will be English, and also it will boost their confidence.


1. Define ‘Best Practices for teaching English as a Foreign Language’?

Teaching English as a Foreign Language is quickly emerging as a popular career choice. English is the most commonly studied foreign language. You did do a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and are trained in some techniques to handle such a class. But there is no teacher training guaranteed to ensure success. We have to adopt a strategy to apply to use the right teaching techniques. These techniques have been applied in various TEFL institutes and by many teachers to achieve the best results. Thus, they are the best methods used to teach a TEFL class. They are called ‘Best Practices for teaching English as foreign language.’

2. How are the best practices useful in teaching English language?

Although students will be determined and consistent with their efforts, a textbook study isn’t the only way to learn, and also it alone is certainly not what is needed to achieve their goals. As teachers, you need to concentrate on an overall approach so you can help students in a class, but also equip giving them with tools to continue learning the language when they leave the classroom. These time tested methods can be applied to ensure that students achieve the learning objectives and become proficient in the language.

3. How can these best practises be applied for different curriculums?

The best practices that are discussed are techniques and teaching aids. They are flexible and can be adapted to fit any kind of curriculum that is being taught. They focus on methods the teacher can use to improve the student experience and equip them with better knowledge of the language. The practices are not associated with any specific curriculum type. And can be changed to suit any class type and any level of English teaching.

4. Are these the only practices that can be used for a better student experience?

There are many methods that have been successfully applied to teach English as a foreign language. We have only looked at a handful of these, which I thought were the best to be used in to ensure students effectively learn English. The methods are very simple to apply while teaching English language. However, there are numerous other methods that can be used to teach TEFL.

5. How do these best practices deliver a better student experience?

The best practices are so called because they have been put to test many a times  and have proved to be useful when applied. These methods are aimed at making the teaching more effective and focussed. These keep the student in mind and offer available solutions so that each student is able to complete their learning objectives.

Last Words….

You are trained for teaching the English language, an expert in your field, and pedagogy. I am sure you already use some of these while teaching English as a foreign language be at home or abroad.
There may be a few that are unfamiliar to you, give them a chance, and you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

We teachers teaching the English language have to stick together and look after each other.

Happy Teaching!

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Seema is your girl next door, managing a home especially an active five year old. She has always been an avid reader and enjoys different genres of books from childhood. Literature has always her passion and she is trying to follow her dreams of becoming a writer. She loves to call Delhi and London her home. She adores exploring historical relics and places, enjoys spending time in the lap of nature and to capture memories with her camera. Professionally, she has been in people facing roles and teaches online at present.

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